Underdog Skiers hold on to win second state boys golf championship; Glenwood’s Exelbert tied for 25th
Reigning individual champion Nic Pevny finished third overall
While the Aspen High School boys golf team entered the season with the defending individual champion in Nic Pevny, there really wasn’t a lot to lean on behind its star senior. Chasing a team title seemed a little far-fetched back in August, but the Skiers had enough belief in themselves and in each other that the idea of raising a trophy by the end still seemed possible.
“This was our goal all year and we knew we could do it. We had beaten every team, so it wasn’t a surprise to us. But it may have been a surprise to others,” AHS senior captain Will Stiller said late Tuesday. “I think I speak for all of us when, no, it really hasn’t (sunk in). I don’t think we’ve processed it yet. But we’ll definitely get a bit more amped up in the following days or hours, I don’t really know. I’ve never won a state championship before.”
Now he has, after the AHS golfers held off all challengers on Tuesday to win the Class 3A state golf tournament, played at Spring Valley Golf Club in Elizabeth. It’s only the second team title in program history for Aspen, the first having come in 2018 when the current seniors were freshmen.
Aspen shot a collective 447 over the two days (223-224) to win by four strokes over Colorado Academy. Vail Mountain and Sterling tied for third with 456, followed by Lutheran in fifth with 457. The Skiers entered the second round in first place, having had a four-stroke lead over Lutheran, and simply needed to hang on.
“It feels amazing. It just feels great to be the underdogs,” AHS junior Sky Sosna said. “No one really believed in us. Everyone knew we were going to states, but no one thought Aspen would come out with the title. It feels good to prove everyone wrong.”
Pevny’s quest for a repeat individual title came up a few shots short. Vail Christian’s Connor Downey took the 3A crown, shooting 139 (69-70) to beat Montezuma-Cortez’s Thayer Plewe by a stroke. Plewe had been the Day 1 leader after shooting 67 on Monday, but shot 73 on Tuesday to finish second. Pevny finished third with 142, going from a 1-over 73 on Monday to a 3-under 69 in his second round.
His individual title last fall remains the only one for the AHS boys golf program. Pevny announced Monday his commitment to play golf for the University of Denver.
“It was cool to see us get it done this year,” Pevny said of the team title. His older brother, Jack Pevny, was a key piece of that 2018 championship team. “I started off with two birdies (on Tuesday), which helped a lot. Throughout the whole day I was hitting my approach shots pretty close, but I had a couple of lip outs and I couldn’t really make any putts. But I think making those two early birdies took some pressure off the other guys.”
There was little doubt that Pevny would hold his own over two days at Spring Valley. The question was whether any of his teammates would have his back, and that proved to be a resounding yes with the play of Stiller and Sosna. Stiller, who was 3-under at one point on Monday before slipping down the leaderboard, shot 155 (76-79) to finish in a tie for 16th place, while Sosna shot 150 (74-76) to finish in a tie for 10th place to make up Aspen’s scoring trio. The Skiers’ fourth golfer, senior Lucas Lee, shot 169 (84-85) and tied for 55th overall.
“You have to know when you’re on that stage that you belong there, and these guys knew it,” longtime AHS golf coach Mary Woulfe said. “Will was very comfortable in his own skin. He knows what he can and cannot do and he just went out there and kept working as hard as he could. … Nic could see his teammates were holding him up.”
While Pevny wasn’t out of the running for the individual title late, especially after a birdie on No. 16, Woulfe said he backed off the pedal and went conservative over the final two holes to make sure AHS was able to hold on for the team title. He finished par-par — as did Sosna after back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 — part of a mistake-free finish that allowed Aspen to claim its second state championship in four years.
Woulfe gave a lot of credit to her coaching staff, which included former player Thomas Doyle providing key guidance to Pevny and Sosna to stay conservative at the end. Coulter Young, another former AHS standout turned coach, and Aspen Junior Golf executive director Brian DallaBetta were also on course Tuesday to help bring the Skiers to the finish line.
“I’m always all about the kids, but this group of kids needed to come together … and my coaching staff made that happen,” Woulfe said. “We had four very different individuals who came together as a team under Will Stiller’s leadership as captain and Nic Pevny’s amazing talent. It pulled Lucas and Sky along. This is truly big for us.”
Basalt didn’t fare nearly as well, shooting 499 (243-256) over the two days to finish near the bottom of the team standings. Sophomore Garrett Exelbert led the threesome by shooting 158 (74-84) to finish in a tie for 25th place. Fellow sophomore Alec Claassen shot 169 (83-86) to finish in that T55 group with Lee, and Longhorn senior Braden Exelbert, Garrett’s brother, shot 172 (86-86) to finish in 69th.
All three BHS golfers actually attend Glenwood Springs High School and compete on the all-district team.
“We are thrilled for them. It’s a really strong group. They really turned it on here when they needed it the most, which is awesome,” first-year Basalt coach Travis Stewart said in congratulating Aspen on the championship. “We were not on our ‘A’ game today. Tough day. Tough day for the guys. First and foremost, they should be so proud of what they accomplished this year. Just being there is a win in itself. It was a tough course, which is an even larger testament to the guys who put up a great score.”
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Senior quarterback/safety/punt returner Trey Caldwell used his legs to make up for some mistakes Rifle football made on Friday night and momentarily kept their hopes for a 2A state title alive.